Addressing the Cycle of Violence: A Children’s Hospital’s Efforts to Heal More Than Physical Wounds

Gun violence among young people is on the rise in the United States, posing a significant threat to the well-being and safety of children. Children’s National hospital in Washington, DC, is taking a proactive approach to break the cycle of violence and provide comprehensive care for young victims of gun-related injuries. The hospital’s physicians and experts recognize that treating the physical wounds is just one aspect of healing—addressing the root causes and providing support for mental and emotional recovery is equally crucial.

In recent years, the number of children admitted to Children’s National hospital with gunshot wounds has been steadily increasing. Firearms have become the leading cause of death among people under 17, surpassing road traffic accidents. Shockingly, the rate of gun-related deaths among youths has doubled in the last decade and has further escalated during the COVID-19 pandemic. Gun deaths among individuals under 18 in the US rose by 50% between 2019 and 2021, according to Pew Research.

While the physical injuries caused by gun violence are devastating, the psychological trauma endured by young victims is equally significant. Dr Mikael Petrosyan, a paediatric trauma surgeon at Children’s National hospital, highlights the need to address the mental and emotional impact of gun violence on children. Many victims who have been shot before are more likely to experience future shootings, often due to returning to the same environments and affiliating with the same people that led to their initial injury. This cycle of violence perpetuates the trauma, making it essential to provide comprehensive support to break this dangerous pattern.

Dr Katie Donnelly, an emergency medical physician at the hospital, likens gun violence to a chronic illness whose consequences prove fatal. Within certain areas of Washington DC, gun violence has become endemic, affecting families for generations. To combat this, Dr Donnelly initiated the hospital’s first youth violence intervention program, which focuses on transforming the traumatic incident of a young person’s life into a catalyst for change and growth.

The rise in youth gun violence can be attributed to several factors. Easy accessibility to guns and a lack of sufficient regulation play a significant role. Additionally, the COVID-19 pandemic has compounded the issue by disrupting education and social structures. Many young teenagers disengaged from online classes and failed to enroll in secondary school, leading to a lack of structure and direction in their lives. The hospital’s program aims to address this issue by prioritizing enrollment and attendance, ensuring that these youths have access to education and a supportive environment.

Breaking the cycle of violence involves not only keeping young people in school but also removing them from environments that perpetuate gang violence and put their lives at risk. The program has experienced both successes and tragedies. While some individuals have shown remarkable progress, getting back on track with education or securing employment, others have faced further victimization and even death due to ongoing violence.

The holistic approach of the hospital’s program is crucial in achieving tangible outcomes and creating lasting change. Success is measured by the number of children reintegrated into schools, the number of youths gaining meaningful work experiences, and their newfound sense of pride and accomplishment. The hospital’s efforts are just one piece of the puzzle in addressing the complex factors underlying gun violence among young people.

Collaborative initiatives involving community organizations, such as Jewanna Hardy’s Guns Down Friday youth program, have emerged to complement the hospital’s work. By approaching gun violence as a collective challenge and strategizing ways to transform the lives of individual victims and their families, these partnerships aim to create a safer, more supportive environment for young people.

The rise in child gunshot injuries and deaths in the United States during the COVID-19 pandemic highlights the urgent need for comprehensive and multi-dimensional interventions. Children’s National hospital’s initiative provides hope and a roadmap for addressing the cycle of violence, emphasizing the importance of not only physical healing but also psychological, emotional, and social support for young victims. By investing in these holistic approaches, society can work towards a future where young lives are not constantly threatened by gun violence.